It is a long established axiom in the wine trade that quality is rarely proportional to price. Of course, there are not many interesting wines for under $4 a bottle, but does paying $40 a bottle guarantee getting a superb wine? Absolutely not.
After a great deal of thought, I have compiled a list of what I believe are the world's most-overrated vinous products. The game rules employed were simple. The wine had to be highly regarded from an historical perspective (i.e. famous vineyard, officially classified, praised by wine writers), and it also had to be highly publicized and very expensive.
Not surprisingly, it was easy to come up with several dozen expensive underachievers. However, to keep the hate mail to a minimum, I have arbitrarily kept my list to a top 10 of the world's most overrated wines. These are listed alphabetically:
Biondi Santi: If Italy's most famous red wine is the Tuscan brunello di montalcino, its most respected grower is the estate of Biondi Santi, owned by a doctor of the same name. Young vintages of Biondi Santi sell for $35 and up a bottle. Older vintages go for 10 times that price. The wine is not only terribly inconsistent, but it can be notoriously mediocre in great vintages such as 1970 and 1964. The 1975 may merit a look by those who like to throw money away, but with all the top-notch red Italian wines on the market for a fraction of the price of Biondi Santi, you are well advised to steer clear of this overhyped, and overrated mediocrity.
Clos Vougeot: This famous "Grand Cru" Burgundy vineyard produces more overpriced, mediocre wines than any other appellation in France. At last count there were in excess of 70 different growers making a wine called Clos Vougeot. Consumers buying burgundy have always faced enormous odds, but those odds are never greater than when buying Clos Vougeot. There are some good producers, for example Mongeard-Mugneret, Pernot-Fourrier, Indelli and Drouhin Larose, but these growers are in a distinct minority. Virtually 80-90 percent of the wine entitled to the name Clos Vougeot is watery, bland and hardly representative of what real burgundy produced from pinot noir is all about. Yet, the price for Clos Vougeot is rarely less than $20 a bottle, with some of the more famous producers getting $35-$40 a bottle.
Dom Perignon: The most sought after luxury champagne in America, Dom Perignon is also one of the world's most overrated sparkling wines. Oh, it is good, and in certain vintages, 1964 and 1971 for example, it can be superb. However, it is usually no better than many of the regular champagnes on the market selling for $20-$25 a bottle, approximately one half the price of Dom Perignon. Yet, image and status are everything to some people, and as long as the Beverly Hills set drinks "Dom," its popularity is not likely to diminish.
Durfort Vivens: It was only in 1855 that this Margaux chateau was considered the best wine in all of Bordeaux. That was when a group of wine brokers and Bordeaux scholars put together the 1855 Classification of the Wines of the Medoc. One hundred and thirty years later Durfort Vivens would be hard pressed to make Bordeaux's top 100 wines. Yet, its official ranking as a second growth, its tireless and charming owner, Lucien Lurton, and its effective marketing campaign continue to conjure up a fragrant, seductive wine with all the elegance and finesse one should expect from a top-notch Margaux. Certainly the 1982 and 1983 are big improvements in quality over what was produced here in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but this property is still one of Bordeaux's most notable underachievers.
Grillet: Most wines from France's Rho ne Valley are remarkably underrated and undervalued. There is, however, one major exception. Chateau Grillet's fame and $40-a-bottle price tag are a result of the fact that it is entitled to its own appellation, which is the smallest in France -- a full 7.5 acres. Its rarity has led to an insatiable demand for a wine that is pleasant, but rarely sublime. In the late 1970s, several vintages were not even pleasant. Nevertheless, Grillet remains an ideal collector's wine, but enthusiasts who love the taste of the exotic viognier grape (from which Grillet is produced) would do better to try one of the neighboring wines from Condrieu for one-third the price.
Montrachet: No one would argue with the fact that the 1,000 cases of Montrachet produced in a normal year are the world's most expensive dry white table wines. This tiny Burgundy vineyard can render superb wines, but more often than not what one gets in a $65-$75 bottle of Montrachet is no more flavor or concentration than exists in one of the neighboring village wines of Puligny or Chassagne Montrachet. However, these latter wines sell for one-fourth the price of Montrachet. A few producers can discover the real magic of Montrachet, most notably Comte Lafon and Marc Colon, but they are in the minority.
Mont Redon: For decades this estate was considered to produce the greatest wine of the southern Rho ne Valley. Majestically rich and multi-dimensional, Mont Redon's wines in vintages such as 1953, 1955, 1959 and 1961 were as fine a red as one was likely to find in France. While the estate still has quite a historical reputation -- its origins can be traced back to 1344 AD -- the wine today is just a shadow of its former self. Commercially produced in a bland, innocuous style, Mont Redon has the name, history and prestige, but Rho ne wine enthusiasts look elsewhere for their cha teauneuf-du-pape.
Rausan Segla: In 1855 the vineyard of Rausan Segla in Margaux was considered the fifth-best spot for making wine in all of Bordeaux. Despite a turnabout for the better in 1982 and 1983, Rausan Segla has been over the last several decades a depressingly mediocre wine that had more in common with some of the generic wines of Bordeaux than any wine produced at a glamorous classified growth.
Romane'e Conti: For centuries this tiny vineyard of less than four acres in Vosne Romane'e has produced 600-700 cases of Burgundy's most celebrated and fabulously expensive red wine. No doubt its reputation and price have been maintained over the years because few have been able to afford and taste the wine. Those that have had the income to buy it would be unlikely to admit their stupidity in buying a $120 bottle of burgundy that is usually no better than one that costs $20. Romane'e Conti has been particularly good since 1978 but it is far from Burgundy's best wine -- yet its price continues to escalate. Who says P.T. Barnum was wrong?
Schloss Vollrads: This magnificent estate, which can trace its origins back to 1100 AD, produces a bevy of wines that have for years been considered among Germany's finest. The owner, Erwein Matushka-Greiffenclau, is proud that he is the 29th generation to produce wine at Schloss Vollrads. Although some splendid wines can indeed come from this property, the track record of Schloss Vollrads is incredibly irregular and in recent vintages the quality is not nearly up to the steep prices asked for the wines.